Days 115 to 120 - Fiambala to Cafayete, and the unanticipated "Vendimia" fiesta
Oh I love it when these things happen!! I roll into Cafayete, probably the second most important wine locale in Argentina after Mendoza, fully planning on one or two rest days. “Oh tomorrow is the big end of summer/growing season party up at one of the vineyards”, someone tells me. “It will be a big party all day”. Turns out it’s been a tradition here for years that the Saturday closest to the March equinox represents the end of the southern hemisphere growing season and the time for harvest, so it’s time to roll out the BBQs, book in several music/dance acts and let everyone go nuts in the afternoon sun. I couldn’t object to any of the above, and certainly not the kitsch opportunity to jump in a huge old wine barrel and squash grapes with my feet as the grape juice poured out the bottom. If you’re lucky, very lucky, maybe one day you’ll be at the supermarket with perfect timing to get that bottle of Steve-feet Malbec. Just imagine.
The route up to Cafayate since my last post has been full of curiosities. After finishing the 12-day circuit without any sign of civilisation, the town of Fiambala had some stunning, cascading natural hot pools in the nearby mountains. About 15 different pools ranged from 25 to 40 degrees C, all built attractively in a narrow rocky valley peppered with plenty of trees. There was even a bar after I’d drunk all the beer in my day pack. An absolutely stunning place to chill for a day.
From there I followed an an old disused road through the mountains from Tinogasta to Londres (London! ... although this one is only home to a few hundred people) which was undoubtedly the worst road (quality-wise) I’d cycled in my life. Spent a lot of time walking instead of cycling..... still, the road was quite picturesque and etched into some high vertical cliffs and definitely not for anyone with vertigo.
But from there I hit civilisation again as the famous national route 40 took me north, with writing on the wall early that I was approaching wine country again, proper as I spent a night in each of the quiet towns of Belen, Hualfin and Santa Maria. On my last day of cycling before hitting Cafayate, I passed at least a dozen vineyards, probably more, so stopped at 4 of them to see what free tastings were on offer. Turns out they’re all very generous, and I smashed about 15 small glasses over 75km and arrived hankering for a burger.
The vineyard fiesta delivered such a perfect rest day that I needed another one the next day to recover. I ended up being befriended by the family of the drummer of one of the many music acts, and after I’d drunk 2 bottles of white myself (£5 each), I bought a bottle of Malbec (also £5) to share with my new friends. Although Argentina is famous for its red and specifically its Malbec, the area around Cafayate is more noted for the local white grape, Torrontes, although all vineyards have plenty of Malbec too. I was so properly nobbed by the end that I lost my guesthouse key and had to pay a 200 peso (£4) penalty at checkout. Given all that had happened, I considered that to be quite respectable damage limitation. It could have been worse!